The Characteristics of Fatal Crashes During the Christmas/New Year Holiday Period

The Christmas/ New Year holiday period has traditionally been associated with a public perception of increased danger on Australian roads. Police enforcement and road safety education are heightened and fatal road crashes are traditionally given increased media attention. This report presents an analysis of the state/territory data relating to fatal crashes occurring during the 2002/03 Christmas/New Year holiday period and compares this with the remainder of the year, to identify both differences and similarities in the two data sets.

The data suggest that there is no significant difference in the daily fatality rate between the 2002/03 Christmas/New Year holiday period (4.5) and the remainder of the year (4.8). The number of fatalities during this holiday period has followed a similar trend to that of the remainder of the year. However, what cannot be known is the 'counterfactual' of how much worse the holiday fatality rate would have been if additional enforcement and fatigue reduction measures had not been in place. The data provide some support for similar road safety measures being effective during both periods.

The data also indicate some differences between the characteristics of crashes occurring during the holiday period and the remainder of the year. There was:

  • an increase in the number of fatigue related crashes, single vehicle crashes and crashes occurring on roads with speed limits of 100 km/h and above;
  • a lower number of heavy trucks involved in fatal crashes; and
  • a significant increase in the number of metropolitan drivers involved in fatal crashes in rural areas (although the majority of drivers were still from rural areas).

The fact that despite these differences there is no significant divergence in the daily average fatality rates suggests there is likely to be a re-balancing of exposure and different risk factors during the Christmas/New Year holiday period. For example, while there are increases in private travel and travel in unfamiliar surrounds during the holiday period, there is a decrease in commuter travel and heavy vehicle travel as well as a greater public awareness of enforcement.

However, too much should not be made of these different characteristics. The analysis shows that the real problem areas for road safety are essentially the same during both periods. The major causal factors of fatal crashes during both the holiday period and the remainder of the year are:

  • excessive speed;
  • driver and rider alcohol intoxication; and
  • fatigue.

This analysis is unable to assess the importance of other factors such as road quality and occupant protection, although other evidence underlines the importance of these. The effects of speeding on crash severity, low level speeding and fatigue are likely to be underestimated due to the difficulty in collecting evidence relating to these factors.

Type: Research and Analysis Report

ISBN: 1 877071 33 1

Topics: Crash data, Fatality

Publication Date: 01/01/03